Bringing a 60s Dulwich house back to life

Midcentury homes can be uninviting from the outside, but they’re wonderful spaces within. Kate Jacobs takes a tour of Francesca Forcolini’s light-filled south London home

People sometimes dream of buying a house that they remember fondly from childhood, few of us end up living in one that we used to hate. But that’s exactly what Francesca Forcolini, the woman behind hip street-fashion label, Labour of Love, has done. She grew up in a 20s mock-Tudor house in Dulwich in southeast London, and remembers feeling sorry for her friend who lived up the road on this quiet cul-de-sac of late-60s bungalows. “I used to think: ‘Poor girl, those houses are so ugly!’”

However tastes change and, over the years, Forcolini has revised her views. “Sixties and 70s homes aren’t always much to look at, but inside they are lovely, light, rational spaces,” she enthuses. It also helps that her partner, Barry Menmuir, with whom she has daughters Anouk, eight, and Ray, five, specialises in renovating midcentury properties.

Hidden assets: the view of the house from the front.
Hidden assets: the view of the house from the front. Photograph: Rachael Smith/Observer

When Menmuir found this house – unassuming from the front but Tardis-like within – Forcolini came to view it with an open mind. That was just as well because the place had been languishing on the market for two years and was rotting away with condensation. “But there was plenty of light, the spaces were great and I thought we could make them even better and turn an ugly duckling into a bit of a swan,” she explains. The cost of the work involved had proved prohibitive for most potential buyers.

It needed a specialist like Menmuir who was able to do the bulk of the renovation himself. He gutted the place and rebuilt it from the floor up, adding insulation and underfloor heating. They also extended the back of the house, transforming a fourth box bedroom into a generous office and creating a much bigger living room. Menmuir cleverly matched the original African mahogany ceiling here with a new cedar section and added a wall of slide-back windows and a poured concrete floor that extends out into the garden, both of which increase the sense of space.

Come dine with us: the kitchen and dining area, with veneered plywood cabinets.
Come dine with us: the kitchen and dining area, with veneered plywood cabinets. Photograph: Rachael Smith/Observer

Meanwhile, at the front of the house, they extended into an unused courtyard to create a light-filled dining area in the once small kitchen. This opens via sliding doors on to the green and peaceful entrance courtyard. The finished house was painted white throughout. “I like to create a space that’s like a container for what you put inside,” explains Forcolini. “The colour and interest come from the furniture, art and objects that are put into it.”

Menmuir built many of the pieces himself, including the living-room shelves and storage and the oak-veneered plywood kitchen cabinets. Forcolini, who is the designer behind fashion label Labour of Love, is lucky to come from a family of design aficionados. The yellow kitchen chairs and a blue Wink easy chair came from her family home, while an Eames recliner and ottoman were once her Italian great-grandfather’s. “The modernist look has become quite mass-produced and can be a little impersonal and cold. I love to mix it with crafts, colour and print to warm it up.”

Through the looking glass: Francesca Forcolini and a view of the garden.
Through the looking glass: Francesca Forcolini and a view of the garden. Photograph: Rachael Smith/Observer

In fact, it’s a look that is true to design tradition. The Californian home of groundbreaking American designers Charles and Ray Eames was full of colour, texture and objects from many cultures, just like the busy shelves in Forcolini’s living room. She applies the same aesthetic principles to her work at Labour of Love, combining clean lines and impeccable construction with loud, graphic prints. “Some people are inspired by minimalism or an empty space, but I feed off pattern and colour. When I see these things, it’s like a release of endorphins,” she explains.

Now that the hard graft is over, the family are enjoying their home. “Living on one level works really well for us. The girls can scoot and roller-skate in and out, but the bedrooms are cleverly zoned off from the living areas to provide some privacy. It’s a great place for parties and even when I’m alone here working, there’s such a sense of the outdoors that you can be very content here.”

For more information, visit Labour of Love and Dulwich Modern


Kate Jacobs

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Life in a Modern masterpiece home
A rare intact British Modernist house has been decorated as if the era never ended, finds Serena Fokschaner

Serena Fokschaner

03, Sep, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
The modernist romance of a restored house in Ditchling
An artistic couple have lovingly restored a modernist house, bought from its first owner, aged 102. Kate Jacobs visits

Kate Jacobs

02, Oct, 2016 @5:00 AM

Article image
Window shopping: an amazing British modern classic house in Essex
WF Crittall’s 1934 house is a British modern classic, writes Joanne O’Conor, and not just because of the metal windows

Joanne O'Connor

11, Jun, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
The chairman: the dealer selling CC41 furniture to the famous
James Watkins set out to be a pop star, but instead found success dealing in Second World War utility pieces. By Phill Langhorne

Phill Langhorne

18, Jun, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
Bringing colour home: a fashion designer’s house
Psychedelia meets folk art in Holly Fulton’s home, a trove of curiosities, finds Laura Freeman

Laura Freeman

17, Sep, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
Feat of clay: regeneration project bringing Liverpool street to life
Granby Street in Liverpool is a great collaboration between Assemble and the locals. By John-Michael O’Sullivan

John-Michael O'Sullivan

10, Sep, 2017 @5:00 AM

Article image
Rise and shine: bringing an old bakery back to life
Built in 1835 in the heart of the old town in Hastings, this former bakery has been lovingly restored and is now ‘beautifully imperfect’

Emily Brooks

20, Feb, 2022 @9:00 AM

Article image
Salone del Mobile: inside the house of fun
Colourful swings, striking mirrors and tiled tables… Becky Sunshine finds the 2016 Milan design fair in a playful mood

Becky Sunshine

24, Apr, 2016 @5:00 AM

Article image
The house and tower on the Suffolk coast that’s a peaceful artists’ residence
It can be bleak in winter but it’s always beautiful, and it’s a place that inspires you to be creative, and ambitious, says the owner, Caroline Wiseman

Serena Fokschaner

24, Jun, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Crowded house: inside a sculptor’s ‘museum’ home | Serena Fokschaner
Artist Rachel Ducker’s Oxford home is more like a cabinet of curiosities than a living space, finds Serena Fokschaner

Serena Fokschaner

19, Mar, 2017 @6:00 AM